Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Why Shouldn't I Cry In Public?
Let’s set the scene with an anecdote. I broke up with someone I really loved. It was particularly hard because the relationship hadn’t run its course. This is emotional purgatory – you can get stuck there because there isn’t any motivation to move on. It’s so much sadder than my previous experiences ‘you have driven me round the bend I can’t stand your (insert offensive habits here) or ‘Sorry, I just don’t love you anymore - have you seen my Sade CD?’.
Very shortly after this breakup a friend said she wanted to take me out for a coffee. She asked very gently ‘ You aren’t going to cry are you?’ It was delivered in a passive tone, but the implication was aggressive. The suggestion being ‘I’d rather you not cry in the cafe because it makes me feel uncomfortable.’
My mind raced with a suitable response ‘Oh I see, my emotions make you feel uneasy. Your embarrassment is about 1 percent of the loss I’m feeling but let’s not have you feel awkward especially since I am the one going through hell, terribly sorry to put you out.’
Clearly this was a fantasy retort. I have been living in the UK for nearly 20 years and I know the social code: Keep Calm and Carry on at all costs- especially in public.
The Brits are certainly not the only nation that tend to sweep things under the rug, but they have made a successful ‘brand’ out of a stiff upper lip.
What Is the Cost of 'Keeping Calm'?
The calm I am referring to is not the ‘zen’ one you feel after exercise, yoga or deep breathing. I mean the concept of ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ to maintain social order. This often plays out in repression of feelings at the time of crisis or afterwards. For example ‘How are you?’ standard answer is ‘ I’m fine’ when really its ‘ I feel a bit low today, recent breakup’. We often choose to hold in our emotions to save embarrassment, the other person’s discomfort, or to smooth things over. Swallowing constant bitter pills in the form of unexpressed feelings makes us worse not better. The 'carrying on' part implies that emotions must be endured, rather than addressed.
Let us compare the efficiency of a physical reaction to something unwelcome within our bodies.
If you have eaten a bad kebab, being calm is of no use, the kebab wants out because it’s self-correcting. It is expelled in a spectacular way. You feel weak and shaky, sweaty and grim- but it is usually over in 24 hours. We don’t allow it to poison us over time.
So why do we swallow the unhealthy feelings? They are doing the same thing as the kebab- festering inside and causing us harm. Why don’t we learn to express our emotions with the skill of a bad kebab – quick purge, maybe some tears, a little respite and then back to base line?
What the Chinese Teach about the Suppression of Emotion
The Chinese believe that suppression of emotion can cause physical symptoms (not in every instance ) but I have now seen so many cases over a broad population of people, I know this theory holds weight.
Anger is expressed through the liver e.g., headaches, painful periods, muscular issues and eye conditions.
Grief is related to the lungs e.g., chest infections that won’t shift, shortness of breath, skin conditions like eczema.
Worry can be seen in the stomach e.g., indigestion, acid reflux, bloating and brain fog.
Fear is linked with the bladder and kidneys, urinary issues, infertility and fatigue.
Anxiety effects the heart and pericardium, insomnia, heart palpitations and panic attacks.
NB A Chinese medical diagnosis is very complex so these are very broad examples
How Letting It Out Can Be The Answer
What would it have mattered if I had shed a few tears into my decaf oat flat white in Gail’s? Very little. The more we express our ups and downs we remove the perceived awkwardness. Acknowledgement of someone’s pain is the best way to react. Doesn’t mean you are able to fix it you are just recognising that things aren’t easy around some feelings.
The more we voice anger, sadness, fear, worry and joy the more society recognises that its perfectly acceptable to have emotion and we don’t have to keep it stored inside, creating illness.
If you would like to examine this a little more Fearne Cotton and Donna Lancaster have a brilliant discussion here. Acupuncture is mentioned as a method that was effective.
Many conversations I have with my patients are about the emotion that might match their pathology. These discussions are often a light bulb moment for them seeing the connection to their complaint. The combination of this awareness and some expertly placed needles to support the organ systems is a great recipe for healing. Bit less dramatic than a bad kebab.